Tuesday, August 10, 2010

(July 29, 2010) Singing the Blues over Red Tape
Believe it or not (and here, I want to give Rahn ALL the credit) we easily navigated Heathrow to London via the underground, making the appropriate changes in between. Rahn is simply brilliant with maps and the like. I, on the other hand, am “geographically challenged”. (We already had an address for the Embassy, thanks to the very helpful information desks at Heathrow.) Once we surfaced in sunny London and discovered the Embassy was so close, we decided to walk there. Rahn felt SURE we had lots of time to accomplish this and get to Gatwick too. I, however, am a “Doubting Thomas” and an ardent subscriber to “Murphy’s Law”!
True to Rahn’s prediction, the walk was easy; and lo and behold, before we knew it, looming in front of us was the United States Embassy in all its red, white and blue glory. Getting in was not such a piece of cake, but we finally managed to convince them we needed to be there. Surprisingly, once there, there was no line at all. In fact, only one other person seemed to be waiting--like us--in the deserted looking passport office. Funny, behind the booths there was a myriad of workers flying back and forth. What do they do all day? We wondered.
Still, we had to take a number and get into a numbered line; which we did. Once my turn came, I had to go through the whole rigmarole again with the new person about my passport debacle. The man was also very nice. (Again, I was surprised by that). He did mention, however, it was highly unusual the customs agent didn’t confiscate my passport. None-the-less, they were going to issue a temporary 6 months passport, give me back the old passport and when I got home, I had to replace the current passport (stashed somewhere back home), because it was now rendered invalid. “Did you follow all this??” I said, turning to look at Rahn. Luckily, he did.
And of course—such a deal--it all cost only an additional 130 pounds!! (This was not including going down stairs to the photo booth to get another set of passport pictures. And by the way, you can imagine what those photos look like after 15 hours of travel!) “So much for staying within the first’s day’s budget,” I muttered under my breath. (Rahn was surprisingly gracious about the whole thing, I must say.) With the new passport and the cost of getting there and back, we had shot through more like the week’s budget! Oh well, what’s a body to do? Like Grandma Wenzel used to say.
Naturally, we had to step out of line and go to the cashier in the next booth over to pay our dues. Then we had to get back in a (different) line and wait some more. This happened about three times, and each time it was a new line. By the end of it, I felt like I was doing the “Two Step”! We finally explained we had to get to Gatwick to catch a flight to France, but the current agent we were working with seemed extremely skeptical it could be done within the time frame we had given him. Yet, hope springs eternal, as my mother always said. (My family is full of funny, old sayings.)
By the time we got to the final phase where I could sign the papers, our cushy lead time to get to Gatwick was diminishing faster than a thoroughbred down the track! But it was still possible. However, while I was waiting in line, Rahn became a little impatient about standing around and decided to go back down to where he had left his cell phone with the guards. He thought he could quickly check his messages. Unfortunately, in his exit, he had taken the new passport receipt with him.
My turn came again and the agent—naturally--asked for the passport receipt to finalize the deal. I couldn’t believe it! I got out of line, sprinting back down to the guard station—a distance away from the building. I grabbed the receipt as quickly as possible from Rahn and headed straight back up to the office. I got back in line, yet again!!! They took the receipt, asked me a bunch more questions about how my passport came to be stolen (by now I was making it up as I went along and they knew it); yet, they finally allowed me to sign the papers. I waited one last time and Voila! A temporary passport was pushed into my, now, very sweaty palm.
Unfortunately, the drama was not over. As we got back to the guard’s gate and collected our belongings, we could not find the Blackberry Rahn handed back to the guards when he came up to join me the second time, after checking his messages. They said they had  placed it back in one of our bags. We rifled through everything twice, but came up empty. The guards could have cared less and acted like they didn’t even notice our now, nearly hysterical rummaging. I am sure they were amused. We were not.
On the third round of frantic bag sacking, up from the dark recesses came the Blackberry. We shot out the door and headed straight for a taxi, which would take us to Victoria Station, where we would connect to Gatwick. Did we make it?
(If you’d like to know, dear reader, stay tuned for the next installment of “My French Memoirs”)

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